January 28th, 2011
08:30 AM ET

Remembering the Challenger disaster, 25 years later

Seventy-three seconds.

That's how long NASA's space shuttle Challenger was in the air before an O-ring failure turned a routine mission into space into a tragedy on January 28, 1986.

Twenty-five years after NASA's first fatal in-flight accident, the memory of the Challenger disaster is still strong.

CNN's John Zarrella was at Kennedy Space Center to cover the launch - the first from NASA's new launchpad 39B. "I just remember seeing the cloud of smoke and what looked like fireworks coming out from the vehicle," says Zarrella. "We were all just looking at each other wondering 'OK, what's happened here?'"

CNN, still in its early years, was the only network to carry the launch live that Tuesday. Among those tuning in were children in classrooms across the country, watching what was to be a milestone: Christa McAuliffe, the program’s first teacher in space, lifted off as a member of the crew.

An investigation later revealed a rubber "O-ring" seal on one of Challenger's solid rocket boosters had failed because of unusually low temperatures. This caused a leak of highly explosive gases, which ultimately led to a catastrophic explosion at 46,000 feet.

It would be almost three years before the space shuttle program would return to flight. NASA wouldn't experience another disaster until the loss of space shuttle Columbia in 2003, when a hole in the shuttle's heat shield caused it to disintegrate on re-entry to Earth's atmosphere. The Columbia disaster would ground the shuttle program for another two years.

Seven lives were lost in the Challenger explosion: Dick Scobee, commander; Michael J. Smith, pilot; Ellison Onizuka, mission specialist; Judy Resnik, mission specialist; Ron McNair, mission specialist; Gregory Jarvis, payload specialist; and Christa McAuliffe, payload specialist and teacher.

Visit CNN.com's complete coverage: Remembering Challenger

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soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. Philip

    And I didn't make any insensitive comments. I asked for a simple accounting of what NASA has accomplished to the betterment of humanity. "Bang for the buck" is about as "insensitive" as I got. (with still no reply on how much NASA has cost over the years) And I still maintain had those funds been invested in our poorly funded education system, we would have solved more problems, and would not be so far behind others. And I did this without calling any of my fellow American's childish names, as if that is so difficult.

    January 30, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Philip

    @CaptainAmerica...I agree. School busses should have seatbelts. That's a no-brainer The reason they don't is sick, if you care to look into it.(And not all crashes involve two vehicles) Human life is always placed behind material goods and profit. Simply investigating how it is that troops were driving HumVee's without armor will give the answer. Pure greed and lack of concern for human life account for this. We still can't afford armor plates in the doors of police cars, nor bullet-resistant glass coatings that cost about 300 dollars per car. (shrug)

    January 30, 2011 at 5:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. mbaker18

    I remember this day very well. I still get cold chills watchin the cnn footage of this. I was 8 yrs. old when this happened....Christa was my hero I wanted to be a teacher and astronaut just like her...I even had a cabbage patch astronaut doll that I named after her. That day my dreams shattered and I lost my hero......my thoughts and prayers go out to these families of the lost as I am sure even though 25 yrs later the pain still hurts like it happened yesterday.

    January 31, 2011 at 4:11 am | Report abuse |
  4. Cisco Modules

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    December 9, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Report abuse |
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